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Home » All, Business, Self regulation

Expansive Posture: When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!

By on January 12, 2011 – 11:05 am  3 Comments

Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.



Good posture

Good posture

If Only I Had Listened!
 

At the moment, both my father and I are recovering from bad backs. This is ironic. Although neither my father nor I have perfect posture, all throughout my childhood, I remember my father coming up behind me, putting his hands on my shoulders and pulling them backwards with the admonishment, “Stand up straight!”

As a teenager, I did not heed my father’s advice. In fact, when I hit puberty, I started to slouch even more in order to hide the changes of my maturing body, despite the fact that I attended a girls’ school and there were no boys to poke fun at me. Actually, quite the opposite happened. My outspoken friend Cherise used to run her finger between my shoulder blades and say, “Honey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Now, when I do core exercises at the gym and ice my back back to health I think to myself, “…if only I had listened.”

The Totem Pole

The Totem Pole

Good Posture Matters
 

However, recent research shows that good posture is important for reasons besides a healthy spine. Kellogg School of Management professor Adam Galinsky and Kellogg PhD candidate Li Huang, along with Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Deborah Gruenfeld and Stanford PhD candidate Lucia Guillory, found that our posture has a significant effect on our behavior. They found that posture, more than a person’s actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization (i.e. job title), is likely to dictate how a person will think and act.

Body language is important. Good posture connotes confidence, leadership and power. What makes the findings of Galinsky and colleagues particularly interesting is that it turns out that posture is more significant than where you are in your company’s food chain. When a person sits or stands with good posture it has a significant psychological effect. Not only do others see you as more powerful when you are in an expansive (i.e. open) posture, but you yourself think, feel, and act more powerfully.
 

The brilliant idea

The brilliant idea

As a result, you may be the lowest on the totem-pole in your company, but if you walk tall into your boss’ office and find him crouched over his desk, it is the perfect time for you to pitch that brilliant idea of yours. First, your good posture will make you feel powerful and confident. And sure, he may be the boss, but in that moment your body language will be associated with power, and so your idea will likely be well received.
 

Surprised by Results

The researchers were surprised by their findings. “Going into the research,” Huang said, “we figured role would make a big difference, but shockingly the effect of posture dominated the effect of role in each and every study.” While the academics might have been surprised by their results, my guess is that many lay people are not. Of course, the press release about the study reminds people that good posture is important for job interviews, but anyone who has been to a career counselor has likely received that advice before now. Surely, my father and Cherise knew intrinsically that it would be useful for me to have good posture, and my guess is they were thinking more about how the world would perceive me than about visits to the chiropractor.

Posture and Self-Regulation

Nonetheless, the article is an important reminder for positive psychologists. We may remember that Muraven, Baumeister, and Tice (1999) found that people who used paying attention to their posture as a means of exercising their self-regulation “muscle” were able to strengthen it. Additionally, there is the importance of the psychological and physical effects of good posture. Expansive postures are good for both the body and the mind. Standing or sitting up straight benefits us in many ways. We get more air into our lungs and our brains, we engage our core muscles and we protect our lower backs. On a psychological level, good posture changes the way we think and act, causing us to feel more powerful and act with more confidence and self-assurance.

Flaunt It!

   Flaunt It!

Posture Breaks
 

So on a personal level, I guess I will thank my Dad and Cherise, and make it my goal to follow their guidance. Additionally, I see a pragmatic use for this information in my professional life as a learning coach. Often, when I work with my students, I see them slouch over their work. From now on, I will stop and make them take posture breaks in order to help them experience a psychological shift.
 

Of course, I don’t want to sound like a 19th Century school marm, but clearly there was some wisdom in the old-fashioned ways. I know that once my students straighten up, they will feel more powerful and in control of the material they are learning. Also, I will remind them that when it is time to take tests they should sit up straight so they will feel more assured and confident. However, chiding them with, “Sit up straight,” won’t cut it. Instead, I’m going to have to borrow Cherise’s phrase, and remind them, “When you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

 


 

Huang, L., Galinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H. & Guillory, L. E. (2010). Powerful Postures Versus Powerful Roles: Which Is the Proximate Correlate of Thought and Behavior? Psychological Science, 2010; DOI: 10.1177/0956797610391912

Muraven, M., Baumeister, R.F., & Tice, D.M. (1999). Longitudinal improvement of self-regulation through practice: Building self-control through repeated exercise. Journal of Social Psychology, 139, 446-457.

Stand Tall, Get Ahead from Kellogg School of Management News and Events

Images
Clasp (good posture) courtesy of liz west

Totem Pole courtesy of Vards Uzvards

The Performer Type courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

Flaunt It! courtesy of Aren Cohen

3 Comments »

  • Oz says:

    Aren – great article. There is a heap of research on how posture impacts emotions. eg mimic someone and they like you more

    Eastern philosophies have known this for years – its called yoga

  • Aren Cohen says:

    Hi Oz,

    Thanks for your comment. It is so true that there is so much that we express and convey with our bodies. Absolutely, there has been lots of research on mimicry and of course yoga is extremely popular and healthful. Also, there is tons of research on how exercise helps ward off depression. I think that we underestimate just how much our bodies can contribute to our positive psychology, both on a personal level (i.e. exercise and yoga) and an interpersonal level (mimicry, posture). Actually, I think my favorite mind/body or “energy break” which probably has the greatest impact on positive psychology (and is likely highly UNDER-RESEARCHED) is laughing yoga. I wrote about here: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/aren-cohen/200905111906 but I am still convinced that the best way to learn about it is from John Cleese: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXEfjVnYkqM

    Cheers!
    Aren

  • andy roberts says:

    Hi Aren

    Thank you so much for writing the article. I did MAPP in the UK 7 years ago and at the time could not understand the lack of wellbeing research and posture was out there. I think that science is really playing catch up to the wellbeing program set out by patanjali in the 8 limbs of yoga . This is my take on the link between posture and wellbeing http://breathenews.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/work-on-your-posture-and-build-your-confidence/

    andy 🙂

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